As they ascend the corporate ladder, many professionals do a curious thing — they stop networking. There isn’t much else that can have more of a long term negative impact on a career.
I have observed this phenomenon in recent conversations with people who have unexpectedly found themselves in career transition. Many spend the first three months of the job search rebuilding networks they failed to maintain while employed. However, the need for leaders — managers and executives — to maintain effective, dynamic networks goes well beyond a possible date with destiny in the ranks of the unemployed.
In spite of our hectic schedules, networking is essential to forward-looking leadership. Professionals with strong networking skills benefit themselves, their organizations, their community and the people in their network.
Networking is more than creating a safety net for an inevitable period of career transition; it is a means to access an enormous pool of resources with unlimited benefits. The reasons executives stop networking are manifold, and there is an investment required, but overcoming those will lead to a nice payoff for the professionals who do it well.
Why is networking a challenge for many professionals today? What gets in the way?
Here are the fundamental obstacles I hear on a consistent basis:
- I don’t have enough time to network.
- I just don’t see the importance.
- My job is secure, so I don’t need to spend time meeting new people.
- Facebook and LinkedIn are just as good as in-person connecting.
- I’m not good at making new connections and find it intimidating.
Networking must be a priority. Rethink your calendar. Be selfless and help others. Make personal interaction the ultimate goal versus simply connecting via the Internet. Vibrant networks take time to build and a long-term commitment to sustain and grow them.
Here are five practical ways to make a meaningful investment in networking:
- Take an honest look at your calendar. At first glance, it may appear you have little time to squeeze in networking, but the time is there. Five opportunities a week for coffee/breakfast and five opportunities a week for lunch — utilize at least one of these times to schedule a weekly meeting with someone new. You need to eat, so accomplish two things with the effort of one.
- Make time for existing contacts in your network. Nurture these relationships at the same time you are expanding new ones. Also, ask these people for connections to new contacts in order to build a larger, more relevant network.
- LinkedIn is a leading business online social network, but Facebook and Twitter can be useful, too. It is important to have complete and transparent profiles with pictures, but don’t use these tools passively.
- Attend relevant speaker events, workshops, seminars or other social mixers to meet fellow professionals. These don’t have to take up your evening as there are ample opportunities for meetings during breakfast or lunch. Consider hosting or co-hosting events at your office or another venue. Organizing meetings with notable speakers on relevant topics allows you to play host and invite other business leaders you might not meet other ways.
- Volunteer and get involved in the community. Where is your passion? What causes energize you? Getting involved, first and foremost, should be about helping others. But, volunteering your time and serving on non-profit boards are excellent ways to meet like-minded professionals.
Is investing time and energy in building a viable network worth it? Is there a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow? The answer is an emphatic — yes!
Professionals who are skilled at networking have access to people, resources and information to help solve problems and create opportunities. It encourages personal growth, benefits organizations and positively impacts the community.
Although there are more, here are five positive results of establishing and growing a dynamic network:
- If you are in a job search, a strong network will help you. Post-recession employee turnover is typically very high, so it is likely you will be in career transition one day. You owe it to yourself and your family to prepare for that possibility.
- Personal development and coaching will keep you active and engaged. Most professionals I know say development and coaching are lacking in their organizations. A dynamic network gives you access to new ideas, current trends and an ongoing opportunity to engage with a group of peers. This flow of information can help your organization stay ahead of the competition.
- Get ahead of the pending war for talent. The looming retirement of Baby Boomers and growing dissatisfaction among employees who have survived the recession (and wish to look for new jobs) means there will be a need to find good people quickly. Stay connected within your industry, know the players and develop trusted networking resources to help find the best talent.
- You can do immense good in the community. Asking your connections to support your causes (and in return, support theirs) is a great way to exponentially leverage positive influence to serve the needs of others.
- You can help your extended network with their business and career needs if you are highly networked. Connecting others to new jobs, positive business relationships, and the like are immensely gratifying benefits.
Professionals who neglect their networks are missing out on a critical component of their job description. By making it an integral part of your professional life and proactively developing and nurturing networking-related skills, you create benefits for your team, your organization and yourself.
Your next great employee, business opportunity, “Big Idea,” community impact story, or career move may only be a cup of coffee away. It is time to get started.